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Thousands pay last respects to 'King' Eusébio

Published: Monday 6 January 2014, 21.11CET
Portugal united in sorrow on Monday as Eusébio was laid to rest in Lisbon, with thousands following his funeral procession on the second of three days of national mourning.
by José Nuno Pimentel
from Lisbon

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Published: Monday 6 January 2014, 21.11CET

Thousands pay last respects to 'King' Eusébio

Portugal united in sorrow on Monday as Eusébio was laid to rest in Lisbon, with thousands following his funeral procession on the second of three days of national mourning.

Lisbon united in mourning on Monday as thousands poured onto the streets and into the Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica to bid an emotional farewell to Eusébio da Silva Ferreira. The Portugal and SL Benfica great died on Sunday aged 71.

Eusébio's body lay in state at the home of his beloved Benfica between Sunday afternoon and 14.00 local time on Monday, with thousands filing past to pay their respects, often waiting up to two hours to do so. The mood was emotional throughout, reaching a peak when, fulfilling the former forward's last wish, his coffin was carried on a lap of the pitch before stopping in the centre circle. The 15,000 fans sang Benfica's hymn and spontaneously followed it with the Portuguese national anthem. Eusébio was not only about Benfica; he belonged to everybody.

The circuit of the pitch was accompanied by the song Con te partirò (Time to say goodbye), as performed by Andrea Bocelli, reverberating from the stadium sound system. The Italian tenor, a Eusébio fan since childhood, was a close friend of the Portuguese, who presented him with a signed Benfica shirt in December 1997 when he visited Lisbon for the launch of an album.

At 14.26 Eusébio left the Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica for one last time, the procession making its way to the Town Hall Square for a tribute from Lisbon's mayor António Costa. The motorcade passed through the main avenues (Avenida da República and Avenida da Liberdade) and the most important squares (Saldanha, Restauradores, Rossio and also Marquês de Pombal, where Benfica fans traditionally congregate to celebrate title wins).

Thousands followed the hearse, applauding loudly and seemingly all wearing Benfica and Portugal flags and scarves, a sea of red. Many more watched on television as events were broadcast live on all three national channels as well as Benfica TV.

The mourning continued at the Largo da Luz Seminar church, not far from the Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica, with mass at 16.15. Asked about the mammoth tribute and national outpouring since Eusébio's passing, Portugal's President Aníbal Cavaco Silva, attending with Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho, said: "It gives you a good idea of his human and sporting greatness."

It was a bleak, grey day in Lisbon, the clouds appearing to reflect the sadness as heavy rain descended towards the end of the funeral at the Lumiar cemetery. The casket had arrived at 17.50, met by chants of: "You are our king, Eusébio." Although proceedings were delayed by the immense crowd at the site, he was laid to rest at 18.37.

The Portuguese government has declared three days of national mourning. There are discussions about renaming Benfica's stadium in Eusébio's honour and talk of his body being transferred to the National Pantheon, in Lisbon, to lie alongside other key figures from Portugal's past. The pantheon was closed on Monday; it rather felt like the whole of Lisbon was.

Last updated: 07/01/14 11.39CET

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